Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
He’s a major leader in the New Testament accounts of the primitive church, closely associated with the traditionalist Jewish side of the movement, wont to give precedence to Mosaic law and ritual — a contrast compared to the Gentile-evangelizer St. Paul. James, however, also appears in Acts of the Apostles as a principal decider of the circa CE 50 Council of Jerusalem edict to the effect that non-Jewish converts to Christianity would not be required to circumcise or observe Jewish dietary strictures.
James the Apostle is said the Less, how well that was the elder of age than was St. James the More. He was called also the brother of our Lord, because I have resembled much well our Lord in body, in visage, and of manner. He was called James the Just for his right great holiness. He was also called James the son of Alpheus. He sang in Jerusalem the first mass that ever was there, and he was first bishop of Jerusalem.
These associations are all matters of scholarly debate, for the name “James” appears repeatedly in the New Testament, and the contexts do not always make it obvious when one encounters a recurring character. No matter how many other faces we might attribute to him, James the first century Jerusalem patriarch was clearly a figure of great authority among the earliest Christians and a co-leader of the Jerusalem Church. His consanguinity with the Messiah cannot have hurt his cause.
There are various accounts given of his martyrdom in 62 or 69** CE which boil down to falling foul of the Jewish authorities, just like his brother. Importantly, he’s referenced by the ancient historian Josephus in a passage from The Antiquities of the Jews that not only casts light upon his death but provides a contemporary non-Christian source verifying the development of this sect. The setup begins with the ascent of a young and aggressive high priest named Ananus, who
was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
Given his importance, James finds his way into quite a few extra-canonical Christian texts as well; for example, there’s an apocryphal Gospel of James dating to the second century. Of particular interest to we connoisseurs of death are gnostic texts from papyri discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt titled the First and Second Apocalypse of James: the Second Apocalypse has an account of James’s martyrdom, very detailed in spite of the fragmentary text, after his preaching in Jerusalem troubled the Jews:
On that day all the people and the crowd were disturbed, and they showed that they had not been persuaded. And he arose and went forth speaking in this manner. And he entered (again) on that same day and spoke a few hours. And I was with the priests and revealed nothing of the relationship, since all of them were saying with one voice, ‘Come, let us stone the Just One.’ And they arose, saying, ‘Yes, let us kill this man, that he may be taken from our midst. For he will be of no use to us.’
And they were there and found him standing beside the columns of the temple beside the mighty corner stone. And they decided to throw him down from the height, and they cast him down. And they […] they […]. They seized him and struck him as they dragged him upon the ground. They stretched him out and placed a stone on his abdomen. They all placed their feet on him, saying ‘You have erred!’
Again they raised him up, since he was alive, and made him dig a hole. They made him stand in it. After having covered him up to his abdomen, they stoned him in this manner.
And he stretched out his hands and said this prayer – not that (one) which it is his custom to say:
My God and my father,
who saved me from this dead hope,
who made me alive through a mystery of what he wills,
Do not let these days of this world be prolonged for me,
but the day of your light […] remains
in […] salvation.
Deliver me from this place of sojourn!
Do not let your grace be left behind in me,
but may your grace become pure!
Save me from an evil death!
Bring me from a tomb alive, because your grace –
love — is alive in me to accomplish a work of fullness!
Save me from sinful flesh,
because I trusted in you with all my strength,
because you are the life of the life!
Save me from a humiliating enemy!
Do not give me into the hand of a judge who is severe with sin!
Forgive me all my debts of the days (of my life)!
Because I am alive in you, your grace is alive in me.
I have renounced everyone, but you I have confessed.
Save me from evil affliction!
But now is the time and the hour.
O Holy Spirit, send me salvation […] the light […]
the light […] in a power […].’
After he spoke, he fell silent … [text ends]
* Saint James the Great was definitely a different fellow.
** The proximity of this martyrdom to the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE) led some subsequent ancient writers — not Josephus himself — to cite it as a cause of the great Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which famously destroyed the Second Temple.
On this day..
- 1766: Edmund Sheehy, James Buxton, and Buck Farrell, Whiteboys - 2019
- Themed Set: The Easter Rising - 2018
- 1916: Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse, and Thomas Clarke - 2018
- 1919: Rudolf Egelhofer, Bavarian Soviet commandante - 2017
- 1867: Modiste Villebrun, but not Sophie Boisclair - 2016
- 1606: Henry Garnet, Gunpowder Plot confessor - 2015
- 1740: Elizabeth and Mary Branch, tyrannical mistresses - 2014
- 1664: Elsje Christiaens, Rembrandt model - 2013
- 1738: Katherine Garret, Pequot infanticide - 2012
- 1909: Jesus Malverde, narco patron saint - 2011
- 738: Copan king 18-Rabbit (Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil) - 2010
- 1946: Not Willie Francis, who survived the electric chair - 2009
- 1808: The Executions of the Third of May - 2008